This past week we observed the remembrance of the horrific tragedy of the attacks on 9/11. 13 years ago this past Thursday our country was the victim of a tragic terrorist attack that involved planes flying into the world trade centers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and one crashing in Pennsylvania that had been directed towards DC. These attacks shook the citizens of the United States to their core, sent us spiraling into fear of how safe we actually were in the center of the free world. Imagining that anyone could have planned and orchestrated these attacks.
However, as we look back at the aftermath of this event and even other events of terrible disaster we can notice something. It is in the midst of the aftermath of these events that we can see one of the greatest responses by a group of people. As the days and weeks after the attacks unfolded stories upon stories of the kindness and love of others unfolded. This came to define the true identity of what it meant to be in community. The idea that we as Americans are a community and our response to help each other and help those who were truly in need of help showed our strength as a community. It proved that as we banded together we were unshakeable. That even in what seems to be our darkest time we are there for each other. We are there to help each other and to pick each other up when we need it.
Community is the most vital aspect of being a Christian and a humans being in general. While it is important for us to have our own private spiritual lives we must also have a rich and full corporate spiritual life that is focused around spending time with other people. We are called to be immersed in community. Community is the way we share our spiritual journeys and the only place we can share the word and love of God. Community is our lifeline to the world.
However, community is not easy. When we look at true examples of good community we often have to search around terrible disasters. While it is comforting to know that in times of distress we can come together and be a community united. However, we constantly react out of kindness in our communities. We must constantly understand that we are a community of one and be willing to work together all the time.
In our scriptures today we are taught about two critical pieces of living in community that we must take into consideration when we discuss true community. Two ways which if we follow and live by can make our communities stronger at all times of our lives and more ready when they are faced with adversity.
The truth is that God calls us to be in community. God calls us to spend time with others in this world, and to be corporately spiritual with those around us. No matter how introverted you might be God still calls us all to be interactive and engaged with those who are on this world with us. As we continue our look at the true marks of Christians as Paul looks at them we look at the idea of Christians being in community. Not just with other Christians, but with all others on this earth.
As we look at our scriptures this week we get two different commands related to living in community as Christians. We gain one point from Paul and one from Jesus’ teachings. From Paul we hear a teaching on the judging of others and what it means to not judge one another whether they are Christian or not. From Christ we learn about one of the toughest things we must do in our society, which is to forgive. These two aspects form the trust that is called to exist in our communities. When we think about coming together as a community we think of a place where we can come being who we are and knowing we are welcome no matter what we may have done. However, when we think of this concept we try and create communities that are focused around certain beliefs and communities that live by very strict rules. Though we cannot allow for exclusive communities or communities that put restrictions on who we are.
Lets start with Paul and with judgement. As we look at Paul and what he says about judgement we think about who we allow into our community. Since we often form community around those whom we know and have similar beliefs we often leave out those whom are not similar to us. We sometimes exclude people because they are different or believe differently than us. Paul begins this passage by saying, “Welcome those who are weak in faith…” Saying this to show that we should welcome those who are different than us. The Roman Christians would have been hesitant about welcoming those who were not Christian like them. However Paul is saying that we should be welcoming of them, but Paul also warns us in continuing, “but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.”
Paul is speaking to Roman Christians about welcoming of others even if they are weak in faith. However, we cannot be quick to let them in so that we can argue with them which would prove our judgement upon them. Instead, we should bring them in and show them the same love that God has called us to give to everybody. Give them a place where they can be loved not where they can receive judgement for who they are.
This is why I am so uncomfortable with groups, especially Christian ones, that express a hatred to some group of people. It makes no sense to me. Not only does Jesus call us to love one another, but in places in scripture like this and others we are taught about not judging others as well. We read and hear that we should be living in wholesome community with everyone. And to those whom may not even be spiritually equal to us, we are not called to judge, but to bring them in and show them the love that God has for them.
The second thing we learn from our Matthew scripture is about forgiveness. Often once people are in community with each other we set these grave rules on how they can stay in our communities. These rules often unwritten and affected highly by peoples emotion in a situation When someone defies or breaks these rules we sometimes ostracize them and shun them out. While it is true that the basis for a good community must be trust, and when that trust is broken it can be hurtful, we must be able to forgive others. It is one of the toughest things for us to do in our lives, but if we think about it it is one of the easiest things for God to do.
In our scripture from Matthew Jesus offers up a parable about master who forgives the debt of a slave. The slave we see begged the master for forgiveness of the debt and the master obliges. However, when the slave moves on he encounters someone who owes him and calls on him to repay and is refused repayment and the other slave begs for forgiveness and the former slave will not have it. When the master catches wind of this we see that the master this time is not very forgiving.
In this story God represents the master who forgives the servant. We represent the servant who is forgiven by the master and sent back into the world where other people are indebted to us. As we think how much of our debt and how much of our wrongdoings God has forgiven should we not go and do the same. It’s very true forgiveness is a very difficult thing, but God calls us to live above any of the quarrels that might exist on this earth.
When we forgive we show the love of God we are called to. Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness sometimes takes time, but Jesus wants us to know that to hold onto to anger or hold on to something bad can be detrimental to our relationship not only with the other person we need to forgive, but with God too. Think about what forgiveness means. Forgiveness is letting go of anger or debt you have towards a person. It is not only freeing for someone else, but it is freeing for yourself too.
Anger is a tough burden to hold on to. It can be heavy and even get between us and God. Forgiveness is freeing because it gets rid of our anger and our hate. It allows our mind and our soul to be at peace and allows us to focus on God’s love.
When we think about a community it is not perfect. It is not without its faults. It is not without its wrongdoing. However, it should be filled and consumed with God’s love. Now when I say forgive I am not saying it will be easy. We are emotional beings after all, but we must recognize the role that forgiveness plays into being a community. The hurt that can be expressed to others by not forgiving them. The division that not forgiving others can create. It stirs up so much emotion and pain it can often tear a community apart. God wants us to be in strong communities and in order to do that we must be willing to share his love with those in our community.
So how do we get to this idea of community? How do we get to this point where we can be a community who does not judge, or one who can be forgiving?
We must be open and receptive to anyone who enters our community first off. We must remember that everybody deserves God’s love. No one is exempt, because not even God withholds it. Therefore, we must be ready and willing to extend that love. Therefore, we must be a welcoming group that shows that you may not be like us, have the same beliefs or are different in some way, but we still value your presence with us.
We must also be ready to forgive. We must be able to extend God’s forgiving spirit to those around us. Though difficult God does not call us to hold on to anger. As easy as it may be to do so God calls us to be forgiving people in a manner of sharing love with those around us.
These are the true community that we are called to. These two aspects we view in the teachings of Paul and Jesus we must understand are important to our concept of community. We must be a strong community that is built around a constant level of love. We must be ready to show that love to others who are in our community through our acceptance of who they are and our forgiveness of what they have done.
We continue to see how the basis of our faith with God is love, and how the basis of our relationship through our faith with others is love as well. God calls us to be in community, and it should be a community of love. AMEN!!!